On April 4 last week, the UK’s equality watchdog, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), broke the news that they had written a letter to the government in response to Kemi Badenoch, the equalities minister’s request to clarify whether it would be beneficial for sex, a protected clarification under the 2010 Equality Act, to refer exclusively to biological sex.
The watchdog, in the hand of the EHRC Chairwoman Baroness Falkner of Margravine, replied affirmatively, warning that despite a change paradoxically bringing more “potential ambiguity” and requiring a need for “further consideration” they concluded:
“… if ‘sex’ is defined as biological sex for the purposes of EqA, this would bring greater legal clarity.”
What Would This Mean?
Currently, the Equality Act abides by both the European Court of Human Rights and the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), protecting trans people under the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” from the beginning of social transition.
– allow for exclusion of or discrimination against trans people based on biological sex in organisations, businesses, workplaces and public spaces;
– remove legal recognition of trans women’s experiences of misogyny in hiring practises, sex discrimination and equal pay;
– hide trans people in governmental data collection, which may be used to further justify discrimination against trans people;
– transfer most of these rights to trans men; although they may benefit from some such protections in pregnancy, they do not by very self-definition identify with their biological sex and would be recipients of the protections trans women are very much in need of, and be forced to use women’s spaces against their will.
This is despite there reported to be in the UK:
– 48% of trans people not feeling safe using public toilets due to fear of discrimination or harassment;
– 63% of respondents experiencing transphobia while seeking employment, rising to 73% for BPOC;
– transphobic hate crimes rising by 59% from 2020-21 to 2021-22; the largest increase ever recorded.
“Violence due to gender identity was prevalent; in each study period, verbal abuse or harassment was reported by over 83% of participants, and physical abuse or harassment was reported by over 56%.”
My accountant just called. He’s received a letter today – hand delivered – no stamp. Threatening to kill me. Because I’m trans. Full of graphic detail about what they are going to do. Passed on to the police. This is what Brit Media, the GC movement and the Gov have done.
— India Willoughby (@IndiaWilloughby) February 20, 2023
Faulkner’s advice is driven by what she articulates is an ambiguity on the interchangeable references to sex and gender, claiming that “[this] would be welcomed by the many who do not take the polarised positions currently driving public debate.”
“Gender critical” organisations such as Sex Matters who started a petition to amend the Equality Act praise the EHRC’s stance on clarifying this ambiguity, yet pro-trans organisations such as Stonewall claim that there is no substantive demand for this clarification and that it would only cause harm.
Indeed, statistics from the EHRC less than three years ago show that 76% of people surveyed believed prejudice against trans people was wrong, with widespread acceptance of trans people in trusted roles such as police officers (84%) and primary school teachers (75%).
However, there was a 10% dip in statistics from 2016 showing that only 51% of respondents would be comfortable with trans women accessing a women’s refuge and a drop in women who felt comfortable with trans women using women’s public toilets from 72% to 66%.
As Stonewall points out, this spike appears to be correlative with the right wing media campaign launched against trans people in the last five years, notably catalysed by the launch of GB News in 2021, that has been compared with the reactionary Fox News channel in the US in its hostility towards minorities – particularly trans people.
What is most interesting, however, are the comments accompanying the survey made by Rebecca Hilsenrath, the Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission at the time, who voices support for trans people and condemnation for prejudice against them, stating:
“The Government ought to take the lead on building constructive and pragmatic discussions on issues affecting trans people.”
Just over two years later, this very same watchdog is now calling on the government to do the opposite, instead solely championing the rights of cis women through the arbitrary dismantling of trans rights; why?
The EHRC: A Corrupt Watchdog?
Badenoch, as well as making the request to the EHRC for clarification on the definition of “sex” in the Equality Act, was also the person who appointed the commissioner to the EHRC board back in January.
Joanne Cash, a former Tory candidate, was reported to have donated £2,500 to Badenoch’s leadership campaign last summer.
Despite not technically breaking any rules in making this appointment, Badenoch’s decision suggests a thought-out political agenda leading to her request for clarification on the Equality Act.
Further, it was reported last year that employees left the EHRC due to a culture of transphobia, citing leaked emails and documents showing EHRC leaders aiding the removal of rights from trans people in court, meeting with “gender critical” groups and changing or shelving pro trans-rights publications.
Concerned, Trans Activism UK has written to the Human Rights Officer at the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, the accrediting body for National Human Rights Institutions, requesting an investigation into the EHRC:
Today we have written to Carolina Crittin, Human Rights Officer at the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, the accreditation body for National Human Rights Institutions, requesting the investigation of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.
— Trans Activism UK (@TransActivismUK) April 9, 2023
Indeed, a former legal director at the EHRC has condemned the proposed change to the Equality Act as “pure transphobia,” accusing it of “using trans people’s actual lives as a pawn in the culture wars”:
— Grey Collier (@GreyCollier) April 6, 2023
Yet, despite the UK government responding with positive reassurance a month before Badenoch sent the letter asking them to “commit to not amending the Equality Act’s definition of sex,” asserting “changes to the Equality Act are not necessary,” the minister is now being backed by Downing Street to consider changing the Equality Act in light of the EHRC’s response.
Additionally, in a shocking move, the Labour Party has also welcomed the EHRC’s suggestion, stating:
“Clarification is a good thing. We will look closely at what’s brought forward.”
UK Parallels with the US
The cultural and legal parallels between the UK’s burgeoning anti-trans stance with the cascade of anti-trans legislation occurring in the US have not gone unnoticed.
Hey y'all. Things are getting bad for trans people in the UK – the UK is attempting to pass a "define sex" act like we've seen in a few very rough anti-trans states in the United States, such as Montana's SB458.
In the UK, this would have the added effect of adult bathroom bans. https://t.co/auEhl7y4Aw
— Erin Reed (@ErinInTheMorn) April 7, 2023
This move was an unprecedented intervention, with former First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon calling it a “full-frontal attack” on the Scottish Parliament. No British government has taken this step in the 25 years since devolution.
Leader of the Labour Party and purported supporter of trans rights, Keir Starmer, discloses a similar political agenda, also making a u-turn from commitments pledged to improving the gender reform bill two years ago, now siding with the Conservative government’s decision to amend the Equality Act, emphasising the importance of “carrying public confidence.”
This is despite the wide-spread protest in the UK against the Section 35 order:
meanwhile all 'gender critical' can muster is the same 20-30 ppl bussed around the country once a week. https://t.co/9rc4dF59ye
— ֆʟօǟռɛ-ʟʏֆɮɛȶɦ (@SloaneFragment) April 3, 2023
Starmer solidified his anti-trans stance last month, supporting schools’ “outing” of trans youth to their parents:
“Look, of course I’d want to know. I say that as a parent. I would want to know and I think the vast majority of parents would want to know.”
However, he disregards how this can have extremely negative repercussions if the parents are transphobic:
As an acknowledged and accredited world expert in trans youth, I can confidently say that your plan to forcibly, and without their permission, out trans kids to their parents will result in domestic violence and child abuse.
— Dr Natacha Kennedy 🏳️⚧️ (She/her) (@natachakennedy) April 2, 2023
Answering a question about whether women “can have a penis” posed to him by a right-wing newspaper, Starmer also implied that trans rights and women’s rights are mutually exclusive, aligning with the trans-exclusionary views of the “gender critical” movement who the Lemkin Institute denounces as:
“furthering a specifically genocidal ideology that seeks the complete eradication of trans identity from the world.”
The genocidal aspects of this ideology bared their face last month during the Australian and New Zealand tour of British Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) campaigner, Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, better known as Posie Parker, with event coverage showing neo-Nazi attendance.
Parker herself has also been known to nurture connections with fascist groups.
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Since the tour, there has been a reported spike in online hate towards the trans community in New Zealand, with online extremist analysts describing it as “genocidal.”
Disinformation Project researcher Dr Sanjana Hattotuwa describes these sources of hate as being “imported” from “Australian neo-Nazi, neo-fascist, anti-Semitic networks”:
“They are being hounded, harassed and harmed and hated upon online — to a degree we’ve never studied before.”
With Parker being a native of the UK and backed by J.K. Rowling, British author of the world-famous Harry Potter series who is herself a prominent “gender critical” presence online, it is perhaps unsurprising that UK trans people experience a similar level of vitriol with a 2021 Trans Lives survey finding that 99% of the nearly 700 people surveyed have experienced transphobia online.
Further, over the 2021-22 period, there was the largest annual increase in hate crimes against trans people ever witnessed, at a 56% upsurge (from 2,799 to 4,355), which has been linked to a rise in online transphobia.
This is not helped by the owner and CEO of Twitter Elon Musk whose takeover of the social media platform late last year saw him enact his interpretation of “free speech” and loosen moderation guidelines, leaving marginalised groups, including trans people, vulnerable to this rising online hate.
The Venn Diagram of Oppression
Other members of the LGBTQ+ community are not immune to this rising hate speech that is increasingly targeting sexual and gender minorities and particularly taking aim at drag queens:
According to Graham Linehan, the BBC is 'grooming' the British public into accepting drag without having a debate about it. This would be the same British public who grew up with panto, Lily Savage, Dame Edna Everage, Les Dawson, Monty Python, Shakespeare, &c &c &c https://t.co/O1qBdVE6tU
— Tabitha McIntosh (@TabitaSurge) April 4, 2023
Nova and Olympia Avalanche, known as the drag duo “Novympia,” are prominent UK drag queens whose livelihood as Youtubers requires them to have a near constant online presence.
Speaking to Impakter, they give insight into the impact this rapid escalation of extremism is having on their lives:
“The rise of queerphobia under the guise of protecting children (as if queer children don’t exist — they do) has resulted in countless TERFs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] on Twitter in particular, calling us slurs or groomers — a term we had never been called before 2022. Not only is filtering through this abuse a waste of our time and makes our jobs more difficult, it can easily begin to negatively affect your mental health if you aren’t careful. Regardless of this, we will never stop supporting the trans community.”
In another parallel to the burgeoning US dystopia where anti-drag rhetoric and protests are escalating, attended by fascist groups such as neo-Nazis and the Proud Boys and reinforced by anti-drag legislation en-masse, UK anti-LGBTQ+ demonstrators are similarly, albeit less successfully, terrorising drag events that promote child literacy and donning placards reading such obscenities as “Groomer free zone.”
This kind of insidious and malicious rhetoric recycles the conspiracy theory falsifying the LGBTQ+ community as sexually deviant, intending to stoke anti-LGBTQ+ hatred and force the community back into the margins of society.
The protests are mostly organised by the right-wing group Turning Point UK, an offshoot of a pro-Trump US far-right organisation, an ambassador of whom is right-wing political commentator, Calvin Robinson, who is also a presenter on GB News.
Laurence Fox, British actor and founder of the right-wing Reclaim Party who was temporarily banned from Twitter last Summer for distorting the Progress Pride flag into a swastika on his account, also has a regular fixture on the far-right news channel and is associated with Turning Point UK.
Fox also attended a Posie Parker anti-trans rally in London this weekend:
Kellie-Jay Keen's attracting allsorts since she's started leaning into the conspiracy theories. pic.twitter.com/VPNfUS9slA
— On a clear day (@ICanSeeForever1) April 9, 2023
The Consequences of Fear-Mongering
In light of these unfolding developments in conjunction with an increasingly threatening social environment, it is no wonder that trans people in England are planning to leave the country — another parallel with many states in the US which have become so hostile, that refugee states for trans people are being established.
Katy Montgomerie, writer and LGTBQ+ rights advocate makes the salient point:
“How the law treats people affects how society treats people. If you treat trans women as second class citizens then that is how the public will treat them.”
UK drag queen and Youtuber Juno Birch further underlines the hollowness of this mainstream political fear-mongering against trans people:
It feels like transgender people are aliens that have just landed on earth. People are obsessed, discussing our rights, our freedom and existence. But the truth is we’ve been here since the beginning and we are not leaving. #transisbeautiful 🏳️⚧️
— Juno Birch (@JunoBirch) April 8, 2023
It seems that this sentiment registers with many of the UK population.
A petition urging the government not to amend the Equality Act per the EHRC’s suggestion reached its 100,000 signature goal in less than three days, now standing at around 131,000 signatures, whilst the petition that called for the amendment stands at around 108,500.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Statue of Lady Justice. Featured Photo Credit: WilliamCho / 33 images